My dad passed away in January 1995. My mother, who loves to sew, decided to make everyone in the family ornaments for Christmas in 1995. Using her tailoring skills she gathered dad's clothes in order to create special gifts for each family member to remember him by. She selected his old favorite clothes like jeans and shirts, cut them into assorted shapes and pieces, and then sewed them together! Some ornaments were round and some looked like stockings. For my grandma Benson, Dad's mother, she made a pillow.
The fireplace was Dad's 'go to spot! Often he would declare: "The hearth is the heart of the family.” Whenever we decided to take the chill out of a cold night, my dad, more often than not, was the person who lit and stoked the fireplace. I could see places where he had burns on his pockets and could smell the scent of lingering smoke. All I have to do is close my eyes and see him wearing those singed “ornament clothes.”
Two months premature, I was born with cerebral palsy. When I came home from the hospital, my mom recalls my dad saying, "This is now the new normal.” Often when our family would go on hikes and other outings, Dad would carry me on his shoulders. Even now I’m able to picture myself being carried by my dad--both of us smiling ear to ear! When we display those ornaments at Christmas I can clearly see his blonde hair, blue eyes, and his glasses, and say, "There's my daddy!” My father's gentleness coupled with strong leadership is a huge part of what has shaped my character today.
Let's rewind to that first Christmas Eve at Grandma's house after Dad died. Following dinner, before we opened our presents, my mother gave a little speech and passed out her special handcrafted ornaments. I don't remember exactly what she said, but I know that her intention was to acknowledge the fact that Dad was with us last year and this year he's not. That side of our family has never been big on talking about emotions. Mom was afraid that some of the relatives might get upset because she was talking about something sad on a day that was supposed to be a happy celebration. Instead, the family surprised her. Everyone appreciated Mom's heartfelt words. Plus they loved their ornaments. What a relief! Uncle Harold said, "Now when I look at my ornament, I’ll look at it and say, "That's Rex."
Creating those ornaments was my mother's way of making sure her husband would never be forgotten. Well, I don’t have my dad. I still have cerebral palsy. But the images of my father carrying me on his shoulders are forever inscribed on my mind and heart. I sincerely appreciate how he always made me feel like an equal part of the family. I was and always will be daddy's girl-the "new normal.”
Whenever I catch a glimpse of my special ornament I think, "Merry Christmas Daddy. I sure miss and love you. Now, I'm 33, and still I hold to the memory of the little girl you lovingly carried on your shoulders. Thanks for treating me like a normal kid and making me feel really special. I can’t wait to climb on your shoulders again and be together in heaven.” Merry Christmas everyone!